DATA SHOW CLAIMS OF INCREASED ABORTIONS UNDER BUSH DON’T HOLD UP
by Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., Director of Education & Research and Laura
Hussey, M.P.M., Special Research Assistant, National Right to Life
Educational Trust Fund
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A piece by a California seminary professor is appearing on the internet and
an in several newspapers claiming that abortions have increased under the
Bush administration. While trotting out what appear to be detailed
statistics from several states, the professor has one basic problem: his
numbers don’t hold up.
Glenn Stassen, the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller
Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, says that while national
statistics from 1990 to 2000 show abortion declining, figures from 11 out of
16 states show abortion increasing since Bush took office. This is both
mistaken and misleading.
Stassen looks at national figures showing the annual number of abortions
dropping from about 1.6 million in 1990 to just over 1.3 million in 2000 to
argue that there was a steady decline of 1.7% a year before Bush took
office. There was a 17.4% decline over the decade, but Stassen’s claim is
misleading. The decline was strongest in the first half of the decade, which
began with George H.W. Bush in office, but slowed during Bill Clinton’s
term, and even reversed itself one year. In Clinton’s last year in office,
the decline was not 1.7%, but just 0.1%.
There have been no national figures published beyond 2000. Setting aside for
the moment the question of whether the sixteen states Stassen uses to
support his claim of a reversed national trend are representative of the
country as a whole, Stassen’s case falls apart when one attempts to confirm
the data he has reported.
Stassen lists South Dakota and Wisconsin as two places where abortions
increased from 2001 to 2002. Figures from those state health departments
show abortions decreased in both states during that time frame.
Stassen lists Illinois as another state where abortions increased from 2001
to 2002. State records do confirm a slight increase for 2002, but then a
drop of 10% for 2003, indicating that 2002 was probably just an aberration
in a long term downward trend.
With those three states shifting from the increase to the decrease column,
Stassen’s claim that abortions have increased in 11 out of 16 states now
turns into a 8 to 8 tie, with as many states decreasing as increasing.
Hardly anything definitive.
Stassen reports large increases in four of the 16 states above – Colorado,
Arizona, Idaho, and Michigan. While state data do record a significantly
higher number of abortions in these states for 2002 than in 2001, officials
from at least two of the states with the highest reported increases caution
against seeing this as evidence of any real increase.
In Arizona, where Stassen reported a 26.4% increase, the state Department of
Health Services cautioned in its report that “It is unclear whether this
increase in the number of reported abortions represents a true increase in
the actual number of abortions performed, or, perhaps, a better response
rate of providers of non-surgical (so called medical) terminations of
State officials in Colorado, where Stassen reported an astronomical 67.4%
one year increase, recently revamped their reporting regimen to address
underreporting, and sent a note to abortion “providers” reminding them that
reporting was required in Colorado. The state said they expected an increase
in reports, and declared, “No one could or should conclude that this
anticipated increase in the rate of reported terminations reflects an
increase in the true rate.”
Stassen doesn’t report these caveats. But if state officials are reluctant
to say their data indicates real increases, they don’t belong on Stassen’s
list of states with more abortions. That would leave just 6 increasing
versus 8 decreasing states, the opposite of what Stassen claims. Stassen’s
case falls apart.
Stassen’s thesis that abortion increases can be linked to job losses and
other economic factors doesn’t even hold up to his own data.
While some states where Stassen said abortions increased also saw increases
in their unemployment rates over those same years, there are also plenty of
counter-examples. Illinois’s abortions dropped substantially between 2002
and 2003, in spite of its unemployment rate being stuck at 6.7%, among the
worst in the nation. Ohio’s unemployment rate rose considerably relative to
most other states, but abortions there declined. If the economic determinism
Stassen assumes was valid, those state results would be reversed.
Stassen presents himself as someone sympathetic to the pro-life cause who
was shocked and saddened to find out that our pro-life president’s policies
were not having the pro-life effects he anticipated. That persona is
Though he identifies himself as “consistently pro-life,” Stassen fails to
mention that he was one of the original signatories of “A Call to Concern,”
a 1977 document that expressed support for the Roe v. Wade decision and
affirmed that “abortion in some instances may be the most loving act
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